If Rob Manfred thought his problems with the Houston Astros were over with, he needs to think again.
After an extended delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 MLB season will begin with 60 games in 66 days. Jose Altuve and the Astros will have an opportunity to redeem their reputations after the recent sign-stealing scandal.
Already, it seems like that road will be tough. Does Manfred need to intervene and speak out against pitchers throwing at Houston Astros players?
Revisiting the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal
The coronavirus pandemic and baseball’s various other issues haven’t changed people’s frustrations with the Houston Astros.
For background, an MLB investigation found the Astros used trash cans and video cameras to steal signs in recent years. Houston won the World Series in 2017 and lost to the Nationals in last year’s Fall Classic.
The investigation found the Astros didn’t steal signs last year.
The Astros were fined $5 million, the maximum allowed by the MLB constitution, and forced to forfeit their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021. Houston fired manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow.
Many opposing players called the Astros’ recent accomplishments “tainted.” Others, including retired Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, criticized former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who blew the whistle on the Astros’ cheating.
Pitchers are already targeting the Astros
The Houston Astros got a potential sign of what could happen this season in a recent exhibition game against the Kansas City Royals.
Royals pitcher Jorge Lopez plunked Jose Altuve and Astros star third baseman Alex Bregman in consecutive at-bats. Both came with the bases loaded, though, so those may not have been intentional.
Another Royals pitcher, Jackson Kowar, hit All-Star outfielder George Springer’s elbow with a pitch.
Altuve left that game with an injury, though it had nothing to do with the hit-by-pitch. He suffered a left leg contusion when he fell down crossing home plate.
Altuve is expected to play when the Astros open the 2020 season on Friday, July 24, against the Seattle Mariners in Houston.
Does Rob Manfred need to speak out and defend the Houston Astros?
The Astros’ cheating scandal, and their lack of a meaningful punishment, rocked the baseball world before the coronavirus pandemic took over.
Now that the sport is back, pitchers will have a chance to throw a wild pitch or two at Astros hitters. Astros ace Justin Verlander gave teammates a hint of things to come when he drilled shortstop Carlos Correa with a pitch in a recent scrimmage.
There’s not much that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred can realistically do to prevent pitchers from addressing the Astros scandal in their own way.
Unless a vast majority of pitchers are headhunting or, like Lopez, seemingly intentionally throwing at Astros players when it means runs could come in, Manfred can’t intervene.
A public statement warning pitchers not to target Astros or Red Sox hitters — the Red Sox had their own cheating scandal — won’t go over well with a player base that, put kindly, doesn’t think highly of Manfred.
Manfred had plenty of chances to address the Astros’ scandal and its impact on baseball. Now, he may need to watch the sport’s players dish the justice they felt their commissioner didn’t.
Teams have used stranger things as motivation, though, and the Astros haven’t backed down from their changed reputation.